The Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects people in protected classes from being treated differently than others in housing situations. Under the FHA, people with disabilities have the right to ask for changes to their residence. (42 U.S.C. § 3601 et al. See also the Utah Fair Housing Act at Utah Code Ann. § 57-21-1 et al. The federal protected classes are race, color, sex, national origin, familial status, religion, and disability. Utah law also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and source of income.)
What Disability Means Under the FHA
Under the FHA, a person has a disability if they:
- Have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, which may include seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, learning, speaking, taking care of oneself or performing manual tasks;
- Is regarded as having such an impairment, and;
- Have a record of having such an impairment.
The FHA Applies, But is Not Limited To…
- Home Owners Associations (HOA)
- Apartment complexes with 4 or more units
- Condominiums, cooperatives, and timeshares
- Emergency shelters
- Mobile homes and trailer parks
- State-owned, or subsidized, residential support facilities
- Rentals where the landlord uses a real estate agent, or management company, to manage.
Reasonable modifications are physical changes made to the structure of the dwelling unit and/ or common areas. Some examples of reasonable modifications are:
- Lowering cabinets, light switches, and thermostats to a height usable by someone in a wheelchair.
- Installing grab bars in the bathroom when someone has limited mobility.
- Widening doorways for use by someone in a wheelchair.
- Installing curb cuts in front of an accessible parking space.
- Reasonable modifications can be requested for facility common areas, i.e. the lobby, main entrance, or laundry room, as well as to individual units.
Granting Reasonable Modifications
Under the FHA, landlords must allow reasonable changes to a residence if they help someone with a disability to use and enjoy their home and/or the common areas under the FHA. You must obtain permission from your landlord before making any changes to your home, or a common area. Most of the time, you will have to pay for the requested changes yourself. Sometimes, the landlord will have to pay. To find out what you should pay, check with an attorney from the Fair Housing Program at the DLC. If you rent a space and decide to move out after a change has been made, the landlord may ask you to put things back the way they were. You may also be asked to put money aside in order to do this. Again, check with a DLC attorney to find out what you are responsible for.
A Landlord May Ask for More Information Regarding Your Disability
Your landlord may request more information from your doctor, therapist, or other professional who is familiar with your disability that:
- explains how your disability affects your life;
- explains the relationship between your disability and the need for the requested modification;
- explains why you need to make changes in your housing.
You may consult an attorney to find out what type of information you’ll need to give your landlord.